Voting for Education Celebrates Black History and Black Futures

Black History Month highlights Black achievements and people pushing for change. What better way to celebrate these past efforts than to advance future opportunities?

Education promotes future success and well-being for individuals and communities. That’s one reason to increase access and equity in our K-12 education system. Others include fighting systemic oppression, honoring Black youth and ensuring that every child in every community receives a great K-12 public education.  

As passionate education advocates, we move this work forward in many ways. Whatever each of us does to advance systemic change, it’s also critical that we vote for education and encourage our friends and neighbors to do the same. 

Civic Leadership and Our Schools

Since nothing about this work is quick or easy, keeping historic civic leaders and their progress in mind is helpful. Centuries ago, during post-civil war reconstruction, Blacks overcame countless barriers to educate children and increase the number of Black teachers. In addition, Black leaders and activists laid groundwork we’re still benefiting from and building on today — one being the building of the nation’s largest complex of Historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU) in Atlanta between 1865 and 1881.

The effort was impressive and successful despite being repeatedly undermined by constantly shifting rules and political responses. One prominent example of this systemic undermining happened when the U.S. government stopped funding the Freedman’s Bureau in 1872. Another happened 82 years later when desegregation coupled with systemic racism shut out many successful Black teachers from our public school systems in Atlanta and nationwide. 

Today, communities across the country continue to feel the impacts of disparities and inequities and a shortage of representative teachers and administrators in public education. Like those who came before, current-day leaders like you, parents and caregivers, educators and advocates, and our youth continue to navigate obstacles and find this moment’s opportunities.  

Why School Board Elections Matter

One current-day opportunity worth taking a closer look at is school board elections. Unlike national elections, school board elections take place in a local context. By learning about and supporting candidates who champion educational equity, we can better our schools and create a pathway for more representative leadership at the state and nationally. 

School board elections also promote democracy. Communities gain more understanding about school issues when candidates bring attention to their priority issues. Candidates representing and in dialogue with communities give citizens a voice and ownership over critical education decisions. Once voted into office, we entrust these elected officials to protect children, create safe and welcoming schools, equitably distribute funds, write, research, and vote on policies that ultimately advance the impact of education as a public good. 

Voting Takes Our Work Further

At redefinED atlanta, we believe one vote can make a difference, but collectively we are even stronger. Our work around voter mobilization means activating a well-informed voter base that can help elect community leaders into seats of power who will aid in advancing policy change to ensure all children and families have access to high-quality public education. 

In 2022, we set specific goals to grow voter participation among Atlanta public school families during the midterm elections and the race for state superintendent. The results are worth celebrating. Highlights include a 19% higher voter turnout at our four partner schools than in the general election in 2021. The turnout in 2022 among these families was also 23% higher than voter modeling predicted. 

After incorporating lessons learned from our 2021 voter mobilization efforts into our 2022 campaign, we plan for even more progress later this year. A few lessons learned included starting our efforts earlier in the year, increasing the content we distributed online and in print, and securing voting champions at every school to increase outreach and engagement. 

In addition, we launched an electoral fellowship, a pilot cohort designed to engage families and educators who served as organizers for their schools’ community. The fellows also hosted and tabled at events, canvassed in school communities and phone banked to mobilize families to increase voter turnout.  

While one vote can sometimes feel insignificant, it’s not – especially when done as a community. It’s yet another example of the power of sustained collective effort over time. By making it a top priority to vote and urging those in our circle to do the same, our impact continues to grow. To learn more and grow your understanding of the power of voting, visit

STEAM Program Immerses Students In Hands-On Curriculum

Celebrate National Engineering Week!

This week is National Engineering Week, a call to recognize engineers for their contributions to society. redefinED atlanta recently sat down with one of our pandemic innovation fund partners Dr. Marsha Francis, executive director for STE(A)M Truck, a program dedicated to immersing students grades 3-8 in hands-on STE(A)M content through high-tech and low-tech tools, unleashing their creativity to ensure that they can design the lives and future communities of their dreams. 

Dr. Marsha Francis describes STE(A)M Truck as “an amazing mobile maker space and innovation lab on wheels.” Through their programs, 3rd-8th-grade students can roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty. STE(A)M Truck carries high-tech and low-tech tools into the classroom…from 3D printers, drones, virtual reality, and coding to drills, hammers, saws and glue guns.

That creative focus sparks understanding and interest in students who might need access to more intensive STEM programs in their neighborhood or district that engage them in ways that traditional classroom learning does not. It’s an intervention that can change the trajectory of their education and future careers–exactly the type of innovation and opportunity that redefinED atlanta strives to make possible to all K-12 students

As a former elementary teacher and district administrator, Francis believes the rigid “sit and get” style of teaching doesn’t stick, and more to the point it doesn’t allow students to develop the imaginative, creative, collaborative skills that corporations whose bread and butter is innovation are looking for.

Francis earned her Ph.D. at the University of Georgia, studying equity in science education, especially for elementary school students. When shewas teaching, one of her principals told her, “the kids we taught only needed to learn to read and count, and I knew that wasn’t actually true,” said Francis.

At the beginning of the COVID pandemic, redefinED atlanta provided funding that allowed STE(A)M Truck to convert its very hands-on approach to something that could translate into remote learning.

“The funding helped us breathe a little bit, spend some time thinking about what does this mean to provide virtual components and get materials out to kids and families and engage them multiple times to create a similar build,” said Francis. She added that while they couldn’t send everyone saws, hammers and 3D printers, they could find coding and art projects and other ways to get students to make things from home. 

That necessity led to a partnership with Clayton County Schools, which is still thriving. Francis said that at first, they partnered with schools providing instruction virtually. Their programming staff led class builds through Zoom and eased the burden on teachers, who were trying to navigate the shift to remote classrooms. But as students returned to school buildings, they pivoted to providing professional development and support for teachers to lead projects with their students with coaching from STE(A)M Truck’s Teacher Engagement team.  

Francis said that the teachers, who are frequently as weighed down with regimentation as their students, seemed to get just as much joy out of the opportunity to be creative in the classroom. “It’s not a worksheet, it’s not a lecture, it’s not a video, it’s a thinking, a doing, a talking, percolating, and that’s really really rich,” said Francis.

“That early support and that vote of confidence and that seed money from redefineED atlanta really helped us stretch and continue to be relevant and provide this just-in-time service to kids who were home but really deserved an opportunity to learn like this,” said Francis.

Francis said the pandemic highlighted the need to be innovative and nimble, but the need remains after schools re-opened. Changing technology means that the relatively slow pace of curriculum development and education policy changes may need to catch up with the demands of the job market.

Enter companies like SNIPES and Nike, that are willing to put their money where their sneakers are to develop the imaginative design skills they are looking for. 

Francis said she got a call from SNIPES in September for a program that launched in October. “They wanted us to create an eight-week program for high schoolers to think about universal design, sneaker design and creating innovative sneakers for differently abled people,” said Francis. 

“They said, high schoolers are really smart. We want to see what they would dream up if we gave them all these resources. And that’s STE(A)M Truck in a nutshell,” laughed Francis.

“I’m a person that when I get a blessing, it won’t be squandered,” Francis added.

Students were divided into teams and given roles equivalent to real-world project management jobs. They did everything from considering who their target audience was for a design, to sawing a sneaker in half to see how it was made and making multiple prototypes of inclusive footwear.

Students in the program responded with exactly the innovation the sponsors hoped for. One student designed a sneaker that would alert a deaf and blind wearer to a nearby object through electronic pressure sensors near the toe of the shoe.

“I’m optimistic about all that we have on our horizon. I love the commitment that our corporate partners are making to students. And we’re just excited to continue this work,” said Francis.

STEAM programs are important in exposing students in under-resourced communities to unique opportunities that enrich their education journey. redefinED atlanta will continue supporting STE(A)M Truck in its vision to ensure K-12 youth throughout Atlanta have equitable access to relevant, transformative and inspiring learning experiences that open doors for future life opportunities. To learn more about STE(A)M Truck and its programs, visit

February 2023 Newsletter

February 2023 Newsletter

February 2023 Newsletter

In this month’s newsletter, we discuss our 2020-2022 impact report; job fairs; Atlanta Magazine’s Top 500 Influencers and more. Show your love this February for Atlanta’s education community and make a donation to BIG LOVE!

Understanding What Educational Equity Is and Why It’s Important

What Is Equity in Education?

Equity in education can’t be achieved without first understanding the meaning of equity. Equity is the pursuit of fairness and justice, used to create balance. This also underscores the imbalance in what people have access to from the start.

Educational inequity is the unequal distribution of academic resources such as books, technology, school funding, facilities and qualified educators. Historically disadvantaged or oppressed communities such as Black and Latinx families are often victims of these practices.

Equality vs. Equity

While both are important and deal with fairness, there is a difference between equality and equity. Equality requires that all receive the same. Equity takes this a step further by recognizing where each group started and ensuring that balance and justice is restored.

Equality in education is achieved when students are treated equally and have access to similar resources. Equity is achieved when students in marginalized groups receive the resources they need, even if they need more support than another school, so they graduate prepared for success after high school.

An Example of Equity in Education

Imagine two schools both have textbooks. On the surface, this seems fair because both possess the same type of resource. However, upon closer examination, one school has brand new textbooks while the other has 25-year-old textbooks and learning from old materials.

For there to be equity in their education, the students with old textbooks also need access to the newest ones. Learning from older materials means that students might be learning outdated information rather than a version incorporating new teaching methods and insights on making the material clearer. Access to the newest materials can give students the best shot at success in and out of the classroom, ensuring grade progression and minimizing potential learning gaps.

Using the textbook example above, if each school receives the same year textbook, all students have equality in the classroom. But, this doesn’t consider that, in previous years, students were learning from outdated textbooks. For there to be equity in their education, these students may need additional support to close the learning gap that inadequate resources created.

The Need for Equitable Education

The importance of equity in education is profound and the impact is exponential for Black and Latinx students and students in under-resourced areas.

Equitable academic outcomes:

  • Ensure high outcomes for all students
  • Remove predictability of success or failures associated with social or cultural factors
  • Discover and utilize unique gifts and talents in students

Educators in under-resourced schools have to focus precious energy and efforts on finding necessary resources to help students catch up to their thriving counterparts. When students are given access to equitable resources and opportunities, their growth accelerates because they have what they need to excel and their efforts are put fully toward learning.

How to Identify Students Who May Be Underserved

Educational inequity exists everywhere—often between different communities—but it can also exist within the same classroom. Identifying who may need additional support is the first step to restoring justice and equity in education.

Typically, historically marginalized and oppressed communities, under-resourced areas, or first-generation students have not received equitable access to education. Racism, homophobia, and other social risk factors impact whole communities—including education systems. Many schools in these areas have been discriminated against, excluding them from funding, resources and experiences.

Promoting Equity at the School and Classroom Level

Communities hold the power to affect change and promote equitable education for all students. Here are a few ways to take action:

  • Address systemic issues—recognize and spread awareness that systemic injustices exist in the educational system, and address these issues head-on.
  • Talk to the other parents in your community about what you are seeing and get their thoughts on these issues. Set up time to discuss this with your students’ teachers or administrators.
  • Address the roles of leadership and administration—school leadership can be a larger part of the systemic issues or be unaware that they exist, but as they are in positions of power and influence, they need to be a part of the solution. One way to hold your school’s leaders accountable is by attending school board meetings when they are held and speaking about the needs of your students at those gatherings.
  • Remove current barriers—create change through community awareness and school system policy changes. Use your vote and your voice to create change whenever there is a chance to vote for school board members or on policy changes at community meetings.
  • Understand how technology has a larger role in a student’s education—currently, equitable access to technology is one of the biggest barriers to student development as not every student has access at home.. Reach out to and petition school district leaders and board members to seek ways in which access to technology is available to students.

Empowering All Students to Succeed

Building an equitable learning environment empowers all students to maximize their potential, including those with diverse educational needs. Leaning into and prioritizing personalized learning opportunities can give each student the time, accommodations and resources they need to meet their educational goals.

Despite grade level, some students may have difficulty learning in certain subject areas, different reading levels or language barriers. Personalized learning and supplemental materials make all the difference for these students and students with greater needs. Allowing school leaders to have more autonomy to source the appropriate materials, resources, and training enables them to create an equitable learning environment.

Make a Change for Equitable Education

Equity in education impacts students’ academic success and entire communities alike. Equitably funding and providing resources to all schools, ensures the best possible outcomes for students and honors their unique gifts and talents. This learning environment allows educators to personalize student learning, which benefits students and gives them a more positive view of learning and their potential, shaping them into more confident and prepared adults.

Students are the future, and they deserve a more equitable and just school system. Interested in making a difference?